OpenSecrets launches earmark mashup


Our friends at the Center for Responsive Politics today unveiled a new feature, long in the works, mashing up campaign contribution and lobbying data with fiscal year 2008 and 2009 earmark data compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Choose your representative or senators and view all earmarks sponsored. Where CRP or TCS has identified a beneficiary of the earmark, such as a municipality, university or defense contractor (indicated in bold, where identified), you can easily see contributions from that entity’s political action committee and employees to the sponsoring lawmaker, as well as the amount of money the entity spent lobbying the federal government.

While somewhat dated, the mashup is a treasure trove for reporters, easily flagging potential conflicts of interest that until now would require shots in the dark and more legwork than many have time for. (Beneficiaries for FY2008 are identified more often than those in FY09; the failure to disclose in a meaningful and machine-readable format by Congress makes extraction by nonprofit watchdogs a slow task.)

Citizens, whether of the view that earmarks represent wasteful spending or can be a valuable and much-needed stimulus for one’s home district, will be interested in this side-by-side comparison of lawmakers’ earmarking practices.

And a variety of new mashed-up state-level stats amounts to a refresher course in the power that individual states have in Washington, a topic that will attract scrutiny as the 2010 census brings once-a-decade Congressional redistricting.

Compare states’ population, electoral votes, amount spent campaigning by presidential campaigns there, total federal-level contributions from residents, and earmark dollars brought home.

The picture that quickly emerges is one in which large states like Texas, of course, have the numbers in their Congressional delegations to run roughshod over smaller states, but in which residents of sparsely-populated states have dramatically more influence over their representatives because each represents fewer people.

In other words, large states have more influence absolutely, but it’s residents of small states who have more influence per capita.

Two states, an intriguing line graph shows, have seen vastly more earmark money on a per-person basis. One, Alaska, comes as little surprise. The other, Mississippi, has a ready explanation–the state’s senior senator, Thad Cochran, is the ranking Republican on the earmark-hungry appropriations committee–but the vast disparity this brings is still striking.

The advantage is not just in per-person terms. Congressmen from Mississippi requested $900 million in earmarks in fiscal year 2009, more than any other state except California–despite the fact that, as the graph shows, California has about five times the population.

An Earmark overview page lets one instantly determine the recipients of the greatest earmark bounty (the University of Alabama at $40 million in fiscal year 2009, after spending $1.4 million on lobbying).

Military construction, it is clear, represents the largest chunk of earmark dollars.

The mashups and visual displays represent a dramatically enhanced use of data which TCS has steadfastly collected for years. The Center for Responsive Politics and Taxpayers for Common Sense are funded in part by the Sunlight Foundation.